Cyclones shoring up defensive lapses

Redshirt senior guard Marial Shayok sizes up Kansas’ Marcus Garrett during the Iowa State vs. Kansas basketball in Allen Fieldhouse Jan. 21. The Jayhawks defeated the Cyclones 80-76.

Aaron Marner

By most accounts, Iowa State is a strong defensive team.

The No. 24 Cyclones (14-5, 4-3 Big 12) are ranked 23rd in defensive efficiency according to KenPom — the best ranking since 2005 when Iowa State finished ninth. When you narrow it down to conference games, the Cyclone defense is ranked third in the league.

Stopping the ball

Monday night against No. 9 Kansas, the defense is what led to Iowa State’s demise in its 80-76 loss. Those defensive gaps — shutting down dribble penetration, closing out on shooters and staying locked in on help defense — are the focus of practice this week as coach Steve Prohm’s team prepares for No. 20 Mississippi on Saturday.

“That was probably as frustrated or upset after a game as I’ve been,” Prohm said. “We just didn’t guard the dribble. It started with our ball pressure, it started with our pick-up point, our ball-screen defense, you can go on and on and on.”

Prohm said he told the team at halftime — with his team leading 42-37 — they needed to hold Kansas to 40 points in the second half in order to win.

Kansas scored 43.

“Our switching was kinda off,” said redshirt senior Marial Shayok, who leads the Big 12 with 19.4 points per game. “Switching was kinda slow. It’s something we definitely can improve on.”

Thanks to Iowa State’s tendency to play four guards with only one forward, switching has become a staple of the defense.

Kansas forward Dedric Lawson took advantage of those slow switches. He finished with 29 points (13-of-17 shooting) after being held to 13 points in the first matchup of the season.

“I don’t know if there’s necessarily one certain thing we need to do [to fix the defense],” said freshman guard Tyrese Haliburton. “We gotta lock in and pay more attention to that. We really focused on [Lawson] going into the game and keeping the ball out of there and making somebody else beat us.”

Haliburton said the Kansas guards were able to get a full head of steam coming off screens on the perimeter, making them tougher to guard.

Aside from Lawson, the rest of the Jayhawks shot 20-for-47 (42.6 percent) from the field. Kansas freshman Devon Dotson finished with 11 points and eight assists as the Cyclones were forced to help on his drives into the lane.

“The guards were really getting downhill and really getting to the rim and finishing,” Haliburton said. “Just gotta fix that in practice.”

Filling the paint

Iowa State has faced a dilemma several times this season thanks to the emergence of freshman forward George Conditt IV.

Conditt IV hasn’t been much of a factor offensively — he has 29 total points on the season in 16 games — but his defensive presence has been key. He is currently seventh in the Big 12 in blocks with 20.

Conditt IV didn’t play against Kansas. Prohm said after the game he considered using Conditt IV when redshirt sophomore Cameron Lard got into foul trouble, but Prohm stuck with Lard and redshirt junior Michael Jacobson.

Conditt IV’s ability to block shots could earn him playing time in the future, however. While he doesn’t contribute much on the offensive end, his defensive prowess could help shore up issues Iowa State has had with stopping penetration.

“Maybe I should’ve gone with George, but you can’t question every single thing,” Prohm said. “The one good thing is we can play different ways. When Mike’s at the five, we’ve gotta be better at guarding the dribble. With Cameron and George, we have a little bit more slippage. George can really, really contest shots.”

Prohm said it “shouldn’t have gotten to that point” where he needed to put Conditt IV in the game to save the defense.

Mississippi could provide a tough test for Iowa State’s defense. The Rebels are 29th in the nation in offensive efficiency, according to KenPom. The biggest flaw offensively for the Rebels is holding onto the ball — Ole Miss is 205th in the nation with a turnover percentage of 19.4 percent.